A champion of peace and reconciliation | Sunday Observer

A champion of peace and reconciliation

President Maithripala Sirisena pays obeisance to Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera
President Maithripala Sirisena pays obeisance to Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera

Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera, who passed away yesterday at the age of 77, had a lifelong aversion to war. This could have stemmed from the fact that he was born on April 14, 1942, when the Japanese planes bombed Colombo. Although it was an auspicious day being Sinhala and Hindu New Year’s Day, Sri Lankans were recoiling in fear as the war sirens sounded.

Named Omattage Gilbert Perera, the baby boy born to Omatte Paul Perera and Palliyage Buthsilina de Silva of Bellanwila would later become one of the most erudite monks Sri Lanka has ever known.

Incidentally, the modern architect of the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya, the Ven. Bellanwila Somaratana Thera was the brother of Paul Perera. Their third son first wanted to enter the Sasana following the footsteps of their uncle. He would later be known as Ven. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Thera. The future Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera knew the temple like the palm of his hand as soon he could walk and the parents rejoiced when he too indicated a desire to enter the Sasana at age 14 following the footsteps of his uncle and elder brother.

His ordination ceremony was held on February 28, 1956 at the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viaharaya. He would henceforth be known as Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera. He was fortunate to have Ven. Molligoda Sri Ariyawansa Thera, Principal of the Molligoda Pravachanodhaya Pirivena who was also the Maha Nayake of the Kotte Sect of Sri Kalyani Samagi Dharma Maha Sangha Sabha as his appointed guardian.

The Ven. Wimalaratana Thera was a gifted student and shone brightly at the Pravachanodaya Pirivena in Molligoda, Wadduwa and the, Vidyalankara Pirivenas at Peliyagoda and Dematagoda. He then gained admission to the Vidyalankara University which was then headed by the most erudite Ven. Kiriwathuduwe Pannasara Thera. His uncle, Ven. Bellanwila Somaratana Thera visited from time to time to inquire into the progress of his two nephews in the Bhikku Order. It was here that Dr. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera met Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha Thera and many other Bhikkus would make their mark in the Bhikku Order. They became lifelong associates who held much the same views on many subjects. Although not so outspoken like Ven. Sobitha Thera, Dr. Wimalaratana Thera raised his voice against many societal injustices and contemporary issues. Ven. Wimalaratana Thera once was elected the President of the General Council of Students of the Vidyalankara University.

Ven. Wimalaratana Thera obtained the BA general degree in 1965 from the Vidyalankara University, which was followed by a BA Honours Degree from the Vidyodaya University in 1972. He joined the teaching staff of the historic Sunethradevi Pirivena in Pepiliyana in 1965. He was the Principal of Parama Dhamma Chetiya Pirivena, Ratmalana from 1966 to 1969. He later earned a Doctorate for the thesis ‘the Maha Purusha concept in Buddhist literature and sculpture’ from the University of Lancaster in the UK. He was engaged in the propagation of the Dhamma while being resident at the London Buddhist Viharaya and the Buddhist Society in England.

The Ven. Thera was appointed a lecturer of the University of Sri Jayawardenepura in 1980. Ven. Bellanwila Somaratana Thera passed away on August 2, 1984 and with Dr. Bellanwila Dhammaratana Thera being away in Singapore after becoming the Chief Sangha Nayake there, Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera became the de facto chief incumbent of the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya. He also later became the Chief Incumbent of the nearby Attidiya Maligawatta Purana Viharaya as per tradition.

In 1987, he was appointed Professor of the same university. President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga appointed the Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera as the Chancellor of the University of Sri Jayawardenapura in 2005 on the demise of Ven. Medagoda Sumanajothi Thera. President Maithripala Sirisena re-appointed him as the Chancellor in 2015.

Ven. Bellanwila Wimalaratana Thera led a very busy life, with the Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya being one of the most venerated temples in the country. He was also responsible for managing the pilgrims’ Rest, the 1,200 student-strong Dhamma school, the Bellanwila Community Development Fund and many other social and religious initiatives in the area. The Bellanwila Community Development Foundation provides training in 14 vocations to youth in the area, especially those who cannot gain entrance to university. The Ven. Thera was instrumental in constructing a new three storeyed building for the Dhamma School. He also ran a day care centre for elderly parents of working couples, in addition to free medical clinics for residents in the area.

He was the guiding light behind the highly successful Bellanwila Perahera, the annual event considered only second in importance to the Peraheras in Kandy and Kelaniya. He was known for traversing the entire length of the Perahera on foot.

The Bellanwila Raja Maha Viharaya attracts thousands of visitors per day, mainly to receive blessings at the foot of its famous Bo tree, one of the 40 saplings of the Sri Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi (236 BC) at Anuradhapura. Ven. Wimalaratana Thera did not forget to mingle with the devotees whenever he could.

The Ven. Thera wrote several books in Sinhala and English including ‘Buddhism, Society and Environment’, ‘Buddhism among other Religions’, ‘Concept of Great Man’ and ‘Buddhist Literature and Iconography’. He also wrote regularly to newspapers.

Ven. Wimalaratana Thera did not hesitate to express his sometimes controversial views in public meetings and on television about various matters affecting the public. Though not overtly political like some of his contemporaries, he was held in high esteem by both rulers and the public alike for his forthright views. He was a lifelong advocate of peace and reconciliation and had a close working and personal relationship with other leading Bhikkus and the leading dignitaries of other major religions in the country. He was aghast at certain incidents that impacted on religious and ethnic harmony and made an impassioned plea to the rulers and the public not to let history repeat itself. He will forever be remembered for the yeoman service he rendered to the Buddha Sasana and the country. May the Ven. Thera attain the Supreme Bliss of Nibbana.